When we were young, we all had heroes, someone we looked up to. For some of us, they were family members, teachers, and other adults who had some positive impact in our lives. For others, they were people we aspired to be when we grew up, from captains of industry to the local vet. But for many of us, they were athletes, with their seemingly superhuman abilities and lovable personalities. One such hero is LeBron James.
James just wrapped up his ninth NBA Finals appearance: a quick four-game affair against the Golden State Warriors. The NBA Finals are where heroes are made and legacies are solidified, and James did not disappoint, putting up astronomical averages of 34.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 10 assists per game… in a losing effort, with a broken hand. He then kicked off the NBA off-season by announcing his move to the Los Angeles Lakers, one of the most storied franchises in professional basketball. In this land of legends and heroes, he will fit right in.
There is no modern athlete with a legacy more debated than LeBron James. He is only truly compared to one other player: Michael Jeffrey Jordan. James’s statistics and accomplishments are measured against him, and him alone. James has gone 3–6 in the NBA Finals, but career averages of 27 points, 7 assists, and 7 rebounds per game over 15 years represent a consistency and dominance rarely ever seen in the sport. Even though he has lost in six NBA Finals contests, he was only favored to win one of those times. When you look at some of the rosters he has taken to the mountaintop, it is hard to argue that anyone has done more with less. His personal record of 45 NBA Finals game victories beats more than 25 NBA teams—meaning, LeBron by himself has more wins in the finals than 83% of the league’s teams. Now that’s impressive. And this is before we even discuss his MVP awards, All-NBA appointments, All-Star selections, and Olympic greatness. Is he the G.O.A.T? That’s up for debate.
Although we focus on his on-court accolades and achievements, LeBron might actually be a bigger giant off of the court. In 2015, he signed the first-ever lifetime billion dollar deal with Nike. He has endorsement deals with Beats, Kia, and Sprite that bring in a reported $55 million. His marketing/business company, LRMR—that he started with his childhood friends—has funded purchases of stakes in Beats, Cannondale bikes, and Liverpool FC, amongst other things. If all of this wasn’t enough, his entertainment company, Springhill, is responsible for the game shows The Wall and Do or Dare, a few scripted shows, and upcoming documentaries on Muhammad Ali and Madam C. J. Walker.
It’s not all about business for James, though, and he is one of the most quietly philanthropic athletes in the industry. The LeBron James Family Foundation has set aside $41 million to put 1,100 Akron students through college. The Wheels for Education program takes a group of 3rd graders through a technology bootcamp every year, and the nonprofit ONEXONE provides healthy breakfasts in schools and after school activities, among other services for children.
Just last week, LeBron announced the opening of the I Promise School, located in Akron, Ohio. This school features free tuition and uniforms; free bicycles and helmets; free transportation to school; free breakfast, lunch, and snacks; a free food pantry for families; free GED and job placement programs for parents; and, to top it all off, free tuition for the University of Akron for every student who graduates and is accepted.
Through many different initiatives and programs, LeBron has gone above and beyond to be a beacon of light in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, and across the nation.
LeBron sets a beautiful example of what fatherhood should be. Too often the role of father is viewed as simply providing shelter and discipline, but it goes far beyond that.
But the place that light seems to shine the brightest is at LeBron’s home. The insights we get into his life as a father come mostly via social media. LeBron is often seen courtside watching his highly touted son, LeBron James Jr., play AAU games. Like a typical proud parent, he is his son’s biggest cheerleader. He can also be spotted at his younger son Bryce’s games. The love doesn’t stop at his watching sons play, as he once went as far as to get candy in the middle of his own game for his daughter, Zhuri.
For LeBron, being a dad is everything. Growing up in a single parent home, he often wrestled with the fact that he didn’t know his father. Now as a father of three, he is devoted to his children, determined not to repeat the same cycle of absent fatherhood that is so prevalent in many communities. In an Instagram post from last year, talking about his father, James said: “You know what, I don’t know you, I have no idea who you are, but because of you is part of the reason who I am today [sic]. The fuel that I use—you not being there—it’s part of the reason I grew up to become who I am.” In an Uber interview with Cari Champion and Kevin Durant, Lebron talked about what it means for him to be a father and the hope he has for his kids.
LeBron sets a beautiful example of what fatherhood should be. Too often the role of father is viewed as simply providing shelter and discipline, but it goes far beyond that. Fathers are pivotal in the lives of their children and there have been numerous studies that support the importance of the present father. Fathers impact everything from how children perform in school to the likelihood they will end up in prison, and even teen sex rates. Even without studies, anecdotal evidence bears this to be true. Daughters learn how relate with men based on their relationships with their fathers. Boys look to their fathers to understand what it means to be a man. Who children grow up to be tends to be a reflection of the example set before them.
Being a good father is one way that men can be a true hero to their kids. LeBron shows us that men don’t run from the challenge. Fatherhood is going to grow you in ways that you could have never imagined: when your first child is born and you look into those newborn eyes, you realize that this child is wholly dependent on you. That alone should light a fire under you!
Your daughter will hang on your every word, your son will mimic your every movement. This is real-life heroism because fatherhood will push you beyond your natural limits. You will grow in patience because you are forced to. You will expend every bit of energy you have to see your children provided for and protected. You will be tired. You will appreciate sleep on a new level. You will experience unspeakable joy every time that little human smiles at you.
LeBron said it like this to Chris Haynes last year:
The best part of fatherhood is seeing your kids in you. The stuff that you used to think you could get away with. The things you thought you were sneaking away with and now you see your kids trying the same thing and I be like, ‘I’ve been there, boy. I know what you’re trying to do. I used to try that. Don’t try to fool me. I know exactly what’s going on.’
So that’s a pretty cool thing and also just seeing the different personalities from Zhuri, to Bronny, to Bryce, it’s almost like leading a team. You can’t lead them all the same way. They all have different personalities even though we’re all growing up in the same households; you have to be able to command them differently. That’s a challenge, but it’s pretty cool.
It is cool. LeBron James does some cool things on the court as an athlete and some cool things for his fellow citizens. But the coolest thing he’s doing is being a father to his kids and showing us that being present is the best gift you can give your kids. And for that, he deserves a thunderous round of applause.